Rain gardens take root near Westport Middle School


Staff from the Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA), the Westport Highway Department and engineers from the Norfolk Ram Group worked together over the summer to create more rain gardens to clean up and slow down polluted runoff from roofs and parking lots at the Westport Middle School complex.

The first phase of the project was the 2006 construction of a man-made wetland to treat road runoff from the east side of Old County Road. The latest work is partially complete and will slow down stormwater from the roofs and parking lots of the Westport Middle School Complex with stormwater basins and rain gardens

In early October, volunteers from WRWA planted the new gardens with over 500 flowers and shrubs. Plants were put in the gardens where water collects during rainstorms which helps the water filter back into the ground. "The water that flows through rain gardens is returned the ground and to the river in better condition and with fewer pollutants," organizers said.

Work will pick up again next summer when school is not in session. Closer to the school, more rain gardens will be built along with vegetated swales and a recharge area. Vegetated swales act similarly to rain gardens but are planted with just grass.

WRWA's water quality monitoring program and mission to solve pollution in the river were the driving force behind the effort. WRWA wrote the grants that enabled the town to obtain $390,000 in state funding for the construction of the stormwater treatment solutions.

"Without a joint effort these projects wouldn’t have happened," the group said. "WRWA thanks the Westport Highway Department for all their work especially Chris Gonsalves, Scott Boyd, Quentin Lord, Tony Medeiros, Andrew Sousa, Ian Morse, Paul Lourenco, and Scott Urban."

All this work is part of a multi-phase project. The Town joined the Buzzards Bay National Estuaries Program and the WRWA for assistance in competing for a Section 319 grant to fund the project. In Massachusetts, the 319 grant program is administered through the Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Watershed Management. This program provides communities with funds to design and build solutions to control polluted runoff from stormwater.

"And another great feature of this project is that students in Westport will learn about the design and how it helps keep pollutants from getting into the river and wetlands. WRWA will teach sixth-graders at the middle school about the project that is right on their doorstep. With the school property less than half a mile from the river, the system will treat the major stormwater-runoff issue flowing from the west side."

What is a rain garden?

"'Rain garden' has a much nicer ring than 'bioretention cell,'" said the WRWA. It's a manmade or natural depression in the ground that's used as a landscape design to catch and filter stormwater runoff as it slowly drains through the soil and replenishes groundwater.

Rain gardens improve water quality by reducing and filtering runoff. The most polluted runoff occurs in the beginning of a rain shower as water rushes over hard surfaces. This water is the first to pick up sediments and pollutants. Rain gardens catch this water before it enters the storm drainage system. Sediments and pollutants settle out of the water and are absorbed by plant roots or treated through chemical processes in the soil. As asphalt replaces woodlands because of development, the natural order of recharging groundwater is upset. Rain gardens offer a simple solution to reverse damage caused by development.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.